For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Works Thomas Girtin


1798 - 1799

Primary Image: TG1456: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), Starcross, 1798–99, graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on wove paper, 15.8 × 24.3 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 ⁹⁄₁₆ in. British Museum, London (1855,0214.55).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • Starcross
1798 - 1799
Medium and Support
Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on wove paper
15.8 × 24.3 cm, 6 ¼ × 9 ⁹⁄₁₆ in

‘Girtin’ lower left, by Thomas Girtin

Object Type
Colour Sketch: Studio Work
Subject Terms
Coasts and Shipping; The West Country: Devon and Dorset

Starcross (TG1458)
Catalogue Number
Girtin & Loshak Number
200i as 'Star Cross, Devonshire ... probably done on the spot'; '1797'
Description Source(s)
Viewed in 2001 and 2018


Thomas Girtin (1775–1802); his posthumous sale, Christie’s, 1 June 1803, lot 96 as 'Scar Cross, Devon'; bought by 'Barrett', £7 7s; his sale, Christie’s, 6 June 1804, no.98; bought by William Wells of Redleaf (1768–1847), £6 16s 6d; ... Chambers Hall (1786–1855); presented to the Museum, 1855


Binyon, 1898–1907, no.8; Davies, 1924, pl.58

About this Work

This view of the riverside fishing village of Starcross, close to the Exe estuary in Devon, is one of two versions of a composition that the artist presumably sketched on his 1797 tour of the West Country (the other being TG1458). Unlike the larger watercolour, which, uniquely for Girtin, is an oval, this view of the village keeps its essentially panoramic composition within a conventional landscape format, with the result that the strong diagonals of the bank to the left and the road in the centre give the traveller in the foreground a sense of momentum that is absent in what I take to be the less satisfactory oval version. Thomas Girtin (1874–1960) and David Loshak thought that this work was ‘probably done on the spot’ in 1797 (Girtin and Loshak, 1954, p.161). However, whilst the relatively rapid application of colour, particularly in the quite crude use of white bodycolour for the house in the centre, together with the very sketchy treatment of the figures might seem to be evidence of this, I believe that it is actually a good example of what I have termed the colour sketch–studio work. Thus, around 1796 the artist began to produce a smaller, sketch-like commodity designed for the portfolio, and selling for less than a standard commission. The cheaper price was not the issue so much as the appeal that the less formal aspects of Girtin’s practice had for collectors who appreciated the artist’s on-the-spot colour sketches. The evident dispatch with which this studio work was completed offered a certain type of sympathetic collector the chance to travel vicariously with the artist and own, if not an on-the-spot sketch, then a sketch-like drawing that even today convinces by its apparent spontaneity.

The prominent signature to the left of the sheet both offers evidence that the work was made in the studio and suggests how it was originally displayed. Thus, the way that the signature has lost part of its lower extent indicates that it originally strayed onto a secondary mount that was later removed as fashions in the display of watercolours changed. Mounting a drawing was a studio task, and, as the support was in all likelihood decorated by Girtin with a few lines and perhaps a band of wash, it would have provided the owner with a safe way to handle the watercolour when taken out of the portfolio for viewing. Visitors to the Print Room in the British Museum, where this work can be seen today, can replicate the very particular pleasure to be had from handling a watercolour and seeing from close to the interaction between paper and pigment that no doubt captivated the work’s first owner. In this case the paper historian Peter Bower has identified the support used by Girtin as a wove wrapping paper (Bower, Report).

1797 - 1798



by Greg Smith

Place depicted

Revisions & Feedback

The website will be updated from time to time and, when changes are made, a PDF of the previous version of each page will be archived here for consultation and citation.

Please help us to improve this catalogue

If you have information, a correction or any other suggestions to improve this catalogue, please contact us.